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Yarl's Wood: Inquiry into 'mistreatment' of Ugandan refugee

By Tom Burgis and Oliver Duff | 23.02.2006 10:39 | Migration | Repression

The healthcare of asylum seekers in Britain's detention centres is to be independently monitored following a catalogue of suicides and alleged mistreatment. Tony McNulty, the Immigration minister, bowed to pressure after years of protest from doctors and refugee campaigners angered by the standard of treatment given to detained asylum seekers.

The move follows a decision by the chief inspector of prisons, Anne Owers, to hold an inquiry into how a Ugandan woman was reduced to a state of mental collapse during seven months in detention.

The inquiry, beginning today, will seek to establish whether the suspected brain damage suffered by Sophie Odogo was caused by mistreatment while she was held at Yarl's Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire and by aborted attempts to return her to Uganda. Ms Odogo, 35, claims she fled the African country after being imprisoned, raped and tortured by soldiers from the Ugandan army before she escaped, flying to the UK on 2 May last year. She is now an inpatient at the psychiatric wing of the Maudsley Hospital in south-east London.

In a letter to Conservative MP Alistair Burt, dated 8 February and seen by The Independent, Mr McNulty said that Ms Odogo's case "has highlighted the need for an independent body to routinely undertake investigations into complaints about the provision of healthcare in immigration removal centres".

Mr McNulty confirmed that Ms Owers will investigate "healthcare provision at Yarl's Wood with specific reference to mental and traumatic stress disorders and to the treatment of Sophie Odogo".

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By Tom Burgis and Oliver Duff